HUMANITIES 2: Women, Culture, Words

Spring 2005

WF 10 AM, Thomas Garrett 203

Th 7 PM Galileo McAlister

Johannes Vermeer Girl with a Pearl Earring

Professor Marianne de Laet

(with Gwen Spencer '05)

Office hours T/Th 1-2 PM, M 10 AM

1259 Parsons

course website

The Fabric of Our Lives


Gender shapes our existence: whether we are men or women, whether we want it or not, gender plays a role in how others view us and how we view ourselves; it organizes our relationships and our behavior; and it shapes our opportunities in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. In this section of Humanities 2 we examine gender, as it is represented in literature and film. We discuss texts (women's memoirs, novels, autobiographies, as well as films about and/or by women), focusing on the interplay between gender and power. Towards the end of the class we shift our attention towards stories, storytelling, and silence as strategies used by women to survive repressive or even dangerous cultural, economic, or political circumstances. We pay special attention to the ways in which women "frame" themselves, or are "framed" in the popular imagination; in the course of the semester we seek to understand the importance of the written and spoken word in fashioning the self, living through unbearable times, or dealing with an environment that doesn't provide models one wants to live by.

Words --Reading and Writing

While this class is organized around stories about women's lives and experiences, Humanities 2 is primarily a course in writing, research methods, and critical thinking. The materials we present are meant to evoke your thoughtful response in discussions and written work. Moreover, they should serve as a starting point for further, in-depth research. We know and understand that for many of you writing is not your first concern. We also know that some of you think that at high school graduation your writing education is complete. This is a mistake. Learning to write efficiently and effectively is a continuing process; writing is work, it is difficult, and it is a skill that improves with practice and commentary. The only way in which your writing will improve is by doing it, and by exposing your work to the critique of others. In the process, you have to learn to assimilate such criticism: a crucial component of good writing is knowing how to critically engage your own work. So, in this class, you write and review and rewrite. If you learn to write effectively and efficiently you have a tremendous advantage over other college graduates. Employers are increasingly aware of the cost associated with bad writing: their business depends on your communication skills. Likewise, if you aspire to a career in science, you have to be able to express your ideas clearly and precisely in writing and otherwise; the success of your collaborations depends on it. But there is one more thing. It is through words that we pass on ideas, knowledge, and culture. Words enable us to look further than the limited realm of our own experiences and to imagine others' worlds. Words have power - and they can be deeply satisfying. We hope to inspire you with our pleasure in words.

What we do in this class

We watch three sets of movies, organized around gender-related themes: "Power?"; "The Cost of Power"; and "The Power of Words."
Movies are shown on Thursday nights at 7PM in Galileo McAlister; we discuss them in class the following Friday. After each series of three movies you write a short, 5-7 page paper (for instructions see below). At the end of the semester you expand and revise one of these into a 10-15 page research paper.
There will be short readings, which we discuss on Wednesdays. Some class time will devoted to writing and research techniques. There is no class on Mondays.
Please be aware that the movies are an essential part of this class -- moviewatching is not optional!



I Power?
1/20 Girl with the Pearl Earring

1/27 Portrait of a Lady
2/3 Lolita (Kubrick)

II The Cost of Power
2/17 A Lion in Winter
2/24 Elizabeth

3/3 Network

III The Power of Words
3/24 Little Women
3/31 The Piano
4/7 Orlando

Due dates:

First paper (Power?) peer review 2/9
Paper due in class 2/11

Second paper (The Cost of Power)
Peer review 3/9
Paper due in class 3/11

Third paper (Power of Words)
Peer review 4/13
Paper due in class 4/15

Final research paper
Peer review 4/25
Paper due in class 4/27

Paper requirements and grading


Short essays (5-7 pages, 2 references each; first drafts are due for peer review on 2/9, 3/9, and 4/13; final drafts are due in class on Friday 2/13 and 3/13, and 4/15. These essays are responses to the texts, movies, and class discussions. In each of these essays you address the "theme of the month": "Power?" in the first paper, "The Cost of Power" in the second, and "The power of words" in the third. You develop a cogent and insightful argument about a movie and/or text we have discussed in class; feel free to work with anything that came up during our discussions: everything we have said is, so to speak, in the public domain. It is imperative, however, that you develop your own, independent argument. I want to see you think!

The research paper is due for peer review on 4/25; you hand over the final version in class on 4/27. This paper is more involved; it is 10 pages in length (no less, and no more than 15!) and it builds on 5 references: sources you find on your own. (Of course, Gwen and I will help). The paper expands with independent research on the thoughts you developed in one of your short essays . It addresses the general theme of this class; it is thoughtful and carefully argued; it discusses the sources in a meaningful way, and it invites the reader to think along with you. You should begin to think about the research paper immediately after Spring break: play around with topics and research questions, go to the library to find your sources, talk to us about what would be a good research question in the framework of this class. While I will remind you to get your act together, you are pretty much on your own in pacing this project. DO NOT POSTPONE IT UNTIL THE LAST WEEK!

First drafts of essays will be peer edited in class and are due 2/9 and 3/8, 4/13, 4/25. It is your responsibility towards your classmates to bring the draft to class on these dates; it will affect your grade if you don't.

Each paper is 20% of your grade; peer review 10%, class participation 10%

Policies and rules of conduct

We expect that you take an active role in class proceedings, and that you help us shape the classroom into a positive and encouraging learning environment where respect rules. You participate in shaping class "content" - you should be ready at all times to make quality contributions to our conversations in class, and be prepared in such a way that you can lead a class discussion at any time. It also means that you take responsibility for "process" - that is, you are an active participant from the moment you enter the classroom; your arguments are thoughtful and to the point; you engage with others' point of view. This class is a collaborative project: we value your suggestions and welcome your comments; we will include you in some of our decisions regarding reading materials. Finally, we expect that all interactions, including peer review and comments on others' work, will be conducted in a spirit of constructive collaboration and mutual respect. You may expect the same from us: engagement and respect, constructive criticism, prompt return of papers, a thoughtful attitude towards course content and class proceedings, and a responsive ear towards your questions and concerns.

All work adheres to the honors code. Attendance is mandatory.

Course Texts

Azar Nafisi Reading Lolita in Tehran
Virginia Woolf A Room of One's Own
Diana Hacker A Writer's Reference
Corrigan A short guide to writing about film
Juska Bare
Eaves A Round-Heeled Woman

Take notes when you read a text or watch a movie; organize your comments around the ways in which gender is portrayed, and pay attention to the ways in which its representation is enabling, constraining, problematic, or ok. You should at all times be prepared to bring one or two passages of the movie or the assigned text to our collective attention; you should also be ready to explain why these passages are noteworthy.

The Writing Center


The Writing Center, located in TG 106 (ext 72177) is staffed by tutors who are trained to help you clean up your writing. Beginning the second week of the semester WC hours are Sunday through Thursday 7:00 to 10:00 PM.